Department of Conservation releases 'reconsidered' tahr control plan

The Department of Conservation (DoC) released its reconsidered tahr control plan on Tuesday.

The original plan was heavily criticised by both hunting groups and environmentalists, and the Tahr Foundation - a collective of farmers and hunters - took the department to court, saying they weren't properly consulted. The also said the plan could jeopardise the commercial tahr hunting industry in the country.

In July, the High Court ruled that DoC could carry out a watered-down version of the plan, but had to hold back and consult with hunters. It allowed DoC to undertake 125 hours of aerial control while it consulted stakeholders and reconsidered the plan.

On Tuesday, DoC said it had completed 118 hours of control since mid-July and analysed oral and written submissions from 14 stakeholders before releasing its finalised operational plan.

"With an open mind we have considered a wide range of submissions from groups and individuals representing the interests of recreational and commercial tahr hunters, as well as conservationists, recreationists and statutory bodies," said operations director Dr Ben Reddiex.

"While DoC considered each request from stakeholders, the finalised operational plan will not be able to completely satisfy all stakeholders, as submitters sought very different outcomes."

Dr Reddiex said the new plan enables the recreational and commercial hunting of thousands of trophy bulls and other tahr on and off public conservational land, while still moving DoC towards meeting the goals of 1993 Himalayan Tahr Control Plan.

"We are not targeting tahr in popular hunting spots and we're exploring options to improve hunter access to public conservation land, such as extending the popular tahr ballot period.

"We're also publishing maps showing the locations of bull tahr we have observed across 425,000ha of public conservation land outside the national parks. We have already recorded more than a thousand observations of bull tahr which DoC has left for hunters."

The revised plan will also see the department "urgently progressing" work with Ngāi Tahu, researchers and stakeholders to develop an integrated research and monitoring programme, which would get underway this summer.

Dr Reddiex said key elements of the original plan would remain in place, with a further 132 hours of aerial control inside the feral range planned.

"We will shortly recommence targeting all tahr in Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks. In the national parks we are legally required to reduce the number of tahr to the lowest practicable densities and it's important we protect and preserve these special areas for New Zealand's native species."

Dr Reddiex said the department would be inviting the Game Animal Council to a discussion on the results of the 2021/21 control operations to date before proceeding with control outside the national parks' management unit.